Kicker Fred Cox, the Minnesota Vikings‘ all-time leading scorer and the inventor of the Nerf football, died Wednesday at the age of 80, the team announced. Cox never missed a game in 15 seasons for the Vikings from 1963-77. He finished his career with 1,365 points and led the Vikings in scoring for 11 consecutive seasons. In addition to winning the final NFL Championship Game in 1969, he also went to four Super Bowls with the Vikings — all losses.
When he retired, he was second in NFL history in scoring behind George Blanda — who also played quarterback — and had made 282 field goals.
In 1972, while still playing for the Vikings, Cox came up with the idea of a soft football to prevent leg injuries to kids. He and partner John Mattox, a local entrepreneur, took a mold of a full-sized football and injected it with soft foam rubber material. The result was the Nerf football. “The weight was right,” Cox told Vikings.com several years ago. “When you threw it, it flew like a football.”
He and Mattox took their sample to Parker Brothers, which had produced the earlier round Nerf balls, and they loved it.